Bel K'ikghil'ishen (Eklutna Alex)
1865-1952 | Dena’ina Athabascan Indian Chief
To workers on the Alaska Railroad he was "Eklutna Alex." To the 1910 U.S. Census takers he was Vecilia Alick. Among his people he was Bel K'ikghil'ishen and to his many grandchildren he was simply known as Chada (grandpa). Born in 1865 at the village of Hutanynut'I (near present-day Bodenberg Butte), he was a member of the Chishyi Clan (Red Ochre clan) of the Upper Cook Inlet Dena'ina Athabascan Indians. In his lifetime, he witnessed many changes, including hearing of the last traditional battle between the Dena'ina and the Ulchena (Aluttiq people of Prince William Sound).
Like many Dena'ina of his time, he was a skilled hunter in the mountains. It is said that he was the first man to kill a mountain goat at Esbaytnu (Bird Creek). During the gold stampede that took place at the turn of the twentieth century on Tulth'uh (Turnagain Arm) he sold sheep meat to miners. Sometime around there he married a woman by the name of Matrona Nicholi from Tsat'ukegh (Susitna Station) and they had five children which included Mike Alex, the last chief of Eklutna, Olga Ondola, Billy Alex, Gronia Baird, and Roy Alex.
Before being forced out of Anchorage in 1918 to Nutul'iy (Fire Island), Eklutna Alex along with many people from Eklutna had fish camps throughout the Anchorage Bowl. In 1927 he came up to Eklutna Lake and built a cabin. Revered Dena'ina elder Shem Pete was sent by Alex's wife to go look for him and had this to say. "He just pack little grub and went up to upper end of the lake. And he build a cabin there. That's why he never come back for a month. He build a big house at the upper end of the lake. He was living there when I find him . . . “ Another story Shem told about Alex and Eklutna Lake relates to the origin for the name (Idluat) Eklutna and the giant underwater monster that created the two knobs near the village. According to Shem, Dena'ina people used the bones from the giant to create qunsha qeneh's (ground squirrel hunting camps in the mountains) whenever they went into those mountains. In 1952, Eklutna Alex told Shem that he wanted to go look for those bones and bring them down and Shem thought that someone would want to buy them from him. Unfortunately, he died before he could go look for them, to which Shem had this to say: "Too late ch'u (and) he don't know what's going to coming Dach' Stroke ghu chijuq (he died of a stroke) he never sick." Eklutna Alex died in 1952.
My grandmother Marie (Ondola) Rosenberg once told me a story of how she, Chada, and her auntie Gronia all went up to Eklutna Lake to go hunting for sheep, along the way they spotted a porcupine and she clubbed it and they had it for dinner. Anyone who has had porcupine knows that it is rather greasy and she told me with a smile on her face how they all spent most of the night running out into the woods. Although I will never be able to go to Eklutna Lake and hunt sheep since it along with the cabin are now part of Chugach State Park, it is stories like these as well as countless others that have been recorded that help me to understand who I am and where I come from. Our elders are a priceless resource and I would urge everyone to sit down and ask them sometime what stories they have to share so that we can better understand our landscape that surrounds us.
By Aaron Leggett, with information from James Kari and James A. Fall, Shem Pete's Alaska: The Territory of the Upper Cook Inlet Dena'ina (Fairbanks, University of Alaska Press, 2003).
 Olga Ondola was the grandmother of Aaron Leggett, the author of this essay.
There is no biographical sketch for Bel K'ikghil'ishen ("Eklutna Alex") in John P. Bagoy's Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1935 (Anchorage, AK: Publications Consultants, 2001). This essay was written by Aaron Leggett, his grandson, and added by the Cook Inlet Historical Society. There is a short biographical entry about Chief Alex in Suzi Jones, James A. Fall, and Aaron Leggett, editors, Dena'inaq' Huch'ulyeshi/The Dena'ina Way of Living (Fairbanks, Ak: University of Alaska Press in association with the Anchorage Museum, 2013), 90. Note: edited slightly by Bruce Parham, July 18, 2016.
Preferred citation: Aaron Leggett, “Bel K'ikghil'ishen (Eklutna Alex),” Cook Inlet Historical Society, Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940, http://www.alaskahistory.org.
Major support for Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940, provided by: Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Atwood Foundation, Cook Inlet Historical Society, and the Rasmuson Foundation. This educational resource is provided by the Cook Inlet Historical Society, a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt association. Contact us at the Cook Inlet Historical Society, by mail at Cook Inlet Historical Society, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, 625 C Street, Anchorage, AK 99501 or through the Cook Inlet Historical Society website, www.cookinlethistory.org.